Is informality to be the new paradigm?

A post submitted by a reader, drAwing pArAllels.

In the clip above, Dr. Heba Raouf tackles, intensely, several issues related to the 25th Jan Egyptian Revolution. In this post, I’ll try to reflect upon some of them breifly while drawing some parallels between them and other urban and spatial issues. 

Please excuse me for any disconnection between these thoughts as they were not intended to be connected in any way. But putting these thoughts together through the reflection on the above lecture may be responsible for the emergence of unseen connections. also I apologize for writing the post in English though the lecture is in Arabic as i was afraid that meaning will be lost in translation.

  • Formality (being formal / acquiring a form) vs. institutionalization (المأسسة) 
  • Formal (الرسمية) vs. informality (الغير رسمية)

Adriana Navarro Sertich argues that there is not only one type of “informality” but various “ informalities”. She sees that informality is not solely geography (First and Third World, periphery and core, etc.), nor poverty, inequality, illegality, marginality, isolation, nor resistance.  informality , as Castells sees it, is not a product but a process, constantly in the making, shifting and redefining relationships (in may cases dependent and essential) with the “formal”. Contingent on this, “informalities” are strategies used by individuals and communities to achieve mobility and claim their rights and recognition. 

Adriana ends her article by questioning, how should the formal sector respond to informality? Should it ‘respond’ at all?

Silvia Soonets suggests not to think of them in terms of dichotomy: As long as we accept the informal settlement not as a strange object but simply as part of the city our solutions and projects will be better, and the pendulum between simple and “poor” solutions and speculation and experimentation with the poverty will reach some equilibrium.

  • Unfolding events 

This unfolding events form A Landscape of Events as Paul Virilio calls it. the collapse of time, the acceleration of time, the reversal of time, the simultaneity of all times. in time. Space becomes temporal as the architect Bernard Tschumi introduces the book. For architects time is spatial because space is what we construct, and time is there to activate these spaces, occasionally to transform them by challenging the perception of their boundaries.For Virilio, society has become entirely a function of time. Janus Head sees that Virilio’s thesis that politicians are condemned to play endless ‘catch-up’ with these unfolding events as portrayed on the media, to rationalize the already occurred.

  • The revolution as an act of love.
  • Flows of love and energy inside Tahrir

In his groundbreaking book The Rise of the Network SocietyManuel Castells introduces a new concept of space that he calls The space of flows.In his definition of this space of flows, Castells writes:

Our societies are constructed around flows: flows of capital, flows of information, flows of technology, flows of organizational interactions, flows of images, sounds and symbols. Flows are not just one element of social organization: they are the expression of the processes dominating our economic, political, and symbolic life. … Thus, I propose the idea that there is a new spatial form characteristic of social practices that dominate and shape the network society: the space of flows. The space of flows is the material organization of time-sharing social practices that work through flows. By flows I understand purposeful, repetitive, programmable sequences of exchange and interaction between physically disjointed positions held by social actors.

Castells proposes the idea that the space of flows is the material organization of social practices that work through flows. Felix Stalder sees that the reason why we need to pay attention to the emergence of this new space is that increasingly the most powerful process that shape our society are organized within the space of flows.

  • Rationality vs. passion (Control of passion)

Here, I recall Asef Bayat comment on how the state deals with the ‘free-form activism’ that characterizes the politics of the informal people. Bayat sees that:

"The repressive policy of the state renders individual, quiet and hidden mobilisation a more viable strategy than open, collective protest. Consequently, in place of protest or publicity, these groups move directly to fulfill their needs by themselves, albeit individually and discretely. According to him informality can be seen as a kind of urban ‘social movements’- understood as organised and territorially based movements of the Third World urban poor who strive for ‘social transformation’. The poor people’s drive for autonomy in everyday life creates a big crack in the domination of the modem state. Self-regulation reclaims significant political space from the state."

  • Local interactions

Emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. In his bookJohnson says ‘Emergence' occurs when a higher level pattern arises out of parallel complex interaction between local agents. He further states that understanding emergence has always been about giving up control letting systems govern itself as much as possible, letting it learn from experience .

  • Spontaneity of the revolution
  • Order vs. disorder
  • Informality defies structure!

Fabiano José Arcadio Sobreira attempts in  her PhD titled The Logic of Diversity: Complexity and Dynamics of Spontaneous Settlement  to contextualize the issue of Complexity in regard to urban studies between Order and Disorder. Complexity is sometimes defined as the edge of chaos when he suggests that things

truly complex appear on the boundary between order and disorder. Complexity theory claim that complex systems expressed in apparent disorder whole, but hide logical order based on simple rules in their individual elements.

The idea of complex adaptive system is a whole that is apparently composed of disordered diverse elements interacting with each other and constantly changing seems like a natural fit, in analogy to society and man. a disorder that would repeat itself? But disorders that repeat disorders are not chaotic or informal. They actually have implicit orders, disguised, hidden, the waiting to be discovered.

It worth mentioning in this context that Cairo contains over 100 ‘spontaneous’ communities(المناطق الغير رسمية) housing over seven million people who have subdivided agricultural lands, putting up their shelters unlawfully.

  • The role and nature of public space and the new state

Castillo declares that there are many lessons to be learned from these “urbanisms of the informal” amongst which, diversity, plurality, tolerance, innovation, adaptation and citizen participation represent a more desirable model to formal planning.

  • Oct 2
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  1. textbookmaneuver reblogged this from elhub and added:
    Interesting reflections on formality and informality, and the relationship between the two.
  2. dwgparallels submitted this to elhub

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